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“I want to sleep in my little beddy.”
Last night was a first, a first for this sweet little toddler who has been my sleep companion for her whole life. As a little baby, we used breastsleeping and side-lying nursing to make it through the tricky patches and big developmental leaps of that first year. *
When shortly after a year, she made clear that sleep in her crib in our room was not preferred for even a short portion of the night, she joined us in our bed where she has been night in and night out ever since.
We took down that unused crib - which I have to say made for excellent laundry storage - and turned that corner of our room into a nook for a toddler bed.
Having only bedshared on and off with my older two kiddos, I imagined we’d make slow steady progress toward more independent sleep as she moved toward age two.
Here we are, days from 2.5 and just now making that tiny but grand leap.
Our culture frames discussions of baby/toddler/kiddo sleep with such fear - fear that our little ones may need us both day AND night.
Given this cultural conversation, I’ve had friends and clients share with me that even when they know about biologically normal sleep they still fear they’ve messed something up or somehow gone wrong in parenting because their little one finds rest best close to a loving caregiver.
As a parent, I’ve felt that fear - the stress and the worry that I’ve somehow misstepped and if only I’d done the right thing, my littles wouldn’t need me so intensely.
As an Infant Sleep Educator with a background in developmentally normal infant and toddler sleep and an understanding of attachment theory, I know that our little ones needing us isn’t something to fear - their need for us is normal and healthy and the stuff of future independence when ready.
Embracing sleep as a spectrum of normal variation means acknowledging that just as some grownups can’t fall asleep well without the sleepy breathing of their partner next to them, some kiddos innately find sleep best when close to a warm family member.
And, it also means acknowledging that some little ones don’t seem to need constant touch quite so much to find rest. It is a spectrum, after all.
Perhaps most importantly, it means recognizing that just because a little one vocally insists on a parent’s presence to fall asleep at age two doesn’t mean that the parents have gone wrong or the child needs to “learn” independence.
Similarly, a little one who has happily babbled to sleep alone since x months may suddenly as an older baby or toddler require more support for initial sleep and more frequent nighttime parenting.
Embracing sleep as a spectrum of normal variation means just that - that just as our children are beautifully unique in the daytime, they may be varied in nighttime needs, as well.
So what of her first night in that “little beddy”? Alas, frequent growing pains meant many awakenings punctuated by the oldest announcing the presence of a stomach bug in our house at 4 a.m.
Such is the stuff of parenting.
What then do I expect from this gentle transition to slightly more independent sleep for our family? I’ll ask myself the same questions I ask my clients in one-on-one consultations - that I tune into my intuition and look at the situation both from my perspective and my child’s.
When we approach sleep as a spectrum of normal and each families' situation and needs as unique, there is so much space for empathy and collaborative solutions to meet everyone's needs rather than framing sleep as an either/or struggle for rest.
That means when I work with clients (and troubleshoot my own family sleep), there is no one-size solution. No discussion of "habits," "props," or forcing independence.
Just empathy and compassion for all parties involved and a supportive conversation that places emphasis on what each family values as most important.
So for now, I’ll trust that when ready, that little beddy will become her default spot for slumber.
Until then, I’ll savor her sleepy cuddles and know that this is just a short season I’ll never get back.
And, I won’t regret a second of it.
*For safety information on breastsleeping or bedsharing, please consult the work of Dr. James McKenna at the Mother Baby Sleep Lab of Notre Dame for a full understanding of safety guidelines and risk factors.
Are you looking for more education and support as you navigate your baby's or toddler's sleep? Looking to gently night wean or transition to solitary sleep? Nested Mama offers sleep workshop and consultations to help your family find more rest. Learn more here.
Johanna received a Ph.D. in English in 2014. Now a postpartum doula and educator of childbirth, breastfeeding, and infant sleep, she blogs about pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and parenting.